machine harvesting

  • Rolling with the Crew: Machine Harvesting

    August 24, 2018 10:59

    Rolling with the Crew: Machine Harvesting

    The way grapes are picked has changed over the years going from hand harvesting for centuries to machine harvesting which began more than 30 years ago in the vineyard. The decreasing labor force, and increasing costs have been an issue for grape growers for more than a decade.

    Fortunately, machine harvesting has advanced at a similar pace. Increased harvesting quality and cost reductions make this a real and worthy option. Considering the improved quality of mechanical harvesting, and the shrinking labor force machine harvesting brings three things to the crushpad: picking the grapes at night allows the cellar to process cooler (temperature) fruit which maintains quality; technology has come a long way bringing with it more precise results in the field (cleaner pick without leaves/sticks and more careful passes through the rows without taking out a vine arm) and finally harvesting a vineyard is accomplished much faster than a team of people hand harvesting-by 50%.

    When our vineyard manager Lance replanted a block of Cabernet Sauvignon he trained it so that in a few years it could be machine harvested. The results, two years ago, were positive all the way around from the standpoint that it picked the block in half the time and winemaker Montse was happy with the quality of the fruit that came in from the night harvest. Along with the Cabernet block we are adding one section of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard to be harvested by machine this vintage. Our Merlot will soon be picked this way as well because the vineyard crew has begun cane pruning the blocks in preparation for a machine to roll through in the coming harvests.

    Machines, however, only do well on flat pieces of land. Our hillside Mother Clone Zinfandel will always need to be hand-picked hence much of the Home Ranch (about 90%) will need a labor force to help pick. We have a strong sense of tradition. Knowing that we'll be hand-harvesting the home ranch into the foreseeable future is okay with us. There is something wonderful about handling each bunch, even if it is a nod to the traditions of the past.

  • Harvest Know-how: From Grape Boxes to Gondolas

    August 28, 2015 14:39

    Picking grapes at their optimum ripeness level is very important to the vineyard manager as well as the winemaker. While we seek balance overall in the fruit we harvest, today’s post is about what those grapes are put in once cut from the vine.

    I remember in the 1960’s watching pick-up trucks bring the harvest to the winery weighed down with boxes of grapes. These grape boxes were used many years ago and they were wooden and very heavy-weighing in at over 50lbs once filled with grapes. Once at the crush pad they were dumped one by one into the crusher. Most of these are now gracing barns and storage as they are rarely if ever used by picking crews these days.

    Plastic buckets are used now and are smaller and easier to lift because, when filled with grapes, they weigh 25 pounds. And lighter tubs means faster work between the vine and gondola. Speed is an element greatly desired by those who are picking the grapes-more boxes/buckets/tubs means more money in the bank. Once the tubs of grapes are filled they are whisked to the gondola, waiting at the end of the vine row several feet away. Speed as a runner is also important to empty the grapes and get back to the business of picking.

    To give you an idea about a day in the life of the harvest here is the report from Wednesday’s crush: The following loads came in: Chardonnay from Frank Johnson Vineyards, Merlot from estate vineyards as well as the neighboring Long Vineyards. The total tonnage was roughly 75 tons, which is well above the usual amount for a regular harvest day, which is nearer to 40 tons. The Chardonnay was machine harvested but the rest was all handpicked. A toast with a splash of Chardonnay in my Dino to all the hands picking and making our wines!

    A wooden grape box that typically held 50 lbs of grapes.

    Wooden Grape Box

    The crew in 2006, photo courtesy of Cellar Master Hipolito Cano who journaled the harvest.

    Cellar Master Cano 2006

  • Harvest 2014 Ends

    September 25, 2014 15:34

    To recap, we began on August 19 with Sauvignon Blanc and ended with Cabernet Sauvignon on September 24, 5 weeks and two days later. One of the great things about writing a newsletter since 1990 is I have copious copy illustrating our harvests year after year. There is quite a bit of talk about this being a super early vintage so I looked up the ‘earliest’ harvest we have recorded which is 2004 when we picked Sauvignon Blanc on August 11 and I see we brought in Cabernet Sauvignon over Labor Day weekend. We finished early in the third week of September.

    This year it was a very compressed harvest for a couple of reasons: the weather stayed with us and didn’t cool off or heat up too much and some vineyards ripened ahead of schedule. For instance we picked estate Merlot before our growers harvested their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The second reason has to do with availability of picking crews. Manuel Diaz, Vineyard Foreman, said he had a steady supply of men and women to do the picking-in other years we had to wait until a full crew could be mustered, hoping the grapes would hang in there until they could bring in the fruit. While it is a few more days until we finish fermentation, here's a toast to all of our hard working crews in the vineyard and cellar on our 87th harvest!

    2014 Harvest Gondola